If you're going to come all the way to Australia (for most people it's nearly a day spent in a plane), then you might as well make a little extra effort and see Aussie animals in the wild. After all, you didn't come all this way to go to a zoo!
Wildlife safaris in Africa are pretty well known but we think Australia’s weird and wonderful wildlife can give Africa a run for its money. No guides are required and often you don’t even need to pay a cent. There are hundreds of amazing animal spotting opportunities but here are ten of our favourites.
We've added where we stayed in the area if it was somewhere we would recommend and would choose to stay again ourselves.
1. Koalas – Kangaroo Island, SA
Top of most people's list of Australian animals to see is a Koala. Despite being a national icon, the number of Koalas in the wild are declining and they're not that easy to find.
If you haven’t spotted one in the wild yet, head straight to Kangaroo Island. We saw them in a few different spots, but a good bet is on the Heritage walk in Flinders Chase National Park. It’s an easy 15 minute circuit with big rewards. We aren’t great spotters but saw three on this track including a little joey pretty easily. The bonus is there are also hundreds of roos too!
Where to stay: Hanson Bay Cabins
How to get there: It's a 25 minute flight from Adelaide or 45 minute ferry journey from Cape Jervis.
2. Wombats – Cradle Mountain National Park, TAS
Wombats are primarily nocturnal and can be a bit like London Buses (you can go for a long time without seeing one and then 3 turn up at once). They can be found in most states, but you need to be in the right place at the right time.
We’d heard from several people that there was a high density of wombats in Cradle Mountain and they weren’t wrong. Take the shuttle from the visitors centre to Ronny Creek carpark and head for the boardwalk. There were so many grazing just beside the track we didn’t know where to start photographing first! Surprisingly they are out in the middle of the day in this area which is another reason it's a great place to spot them.
Where to stay: Highlanders Cottages
How to get there: It's about 4.5 hours drive from Hobart or 2 hours from Launceston.
3. Eastern Grey Kangaroos – Pebbly beach, Murramarang National Park, NSW
There are more Kangaroos in Australia than people, so they aren't too hard to find outside the major cities. But fearless beach kangaroos? That's a lot less common.
Our favourite spot to see Eastern Greys is Pebbly Beach on the South Coast of NSW. This beautiful area is not only guaranteed to give you sightings of this national icon, but also offers the unique opportunity to meet kangaroos that like an evening stroll on the beach. Perfect for that classic Instagram shot. The roos we saw were all over the grass behind the beach in the middle of the day but seemed to only go down on to the beach around sunset.
4. Emu – Coorong, SA
As well as the kangaroo, the emu is the other animal on the Australian Coat of Arms (rumoured to be symbolic as both animals can't go backwards). Just like most other Australian wildlife, emus can be hard to find in the wild unless you know where to go.
Coorong in South Australia is a spot where you're very likely to see them. The whole area is a bird watchers paradise, but it's well worth a visit even if twitching is not your thing. The salt lakes in Coorong National Park are spectacular and often have a pink hue. We found them fascinating and so too do the local emu population. Go early to catch them on their morning wander. We saw a beautiful pair who were matching each other stride for stride.
How to get there: It's about 2.5 hours from Adelaide to Salt Creek which is where you can find the salt flats and access to the wonderful Nukan Kungun hike.
5. Humpback Whales – Sydney Harbour, NSW
After being hunted to near extinction, Humpback Whales have made a huge comeback in the last decade, with record numbers passing by the East Coast of Australia in 2017.
There are many places to whale watch in Australia but it feels pretty special to see them within spitting distance of Sydney harbour. The season runs from May to November but sightings are best in June and July. We’ve seen them from the cliff tops at Bondi beach and several times at Royal National Park but take one of the numerous whale watching boat cruises if you want to get up close and personal. You often get huge pods of dolphin and the odd seal too which is another bonus.
6. Cassowaries – Etty Bay, QLD
It was a dream of ours to spot one of the rare endangered cassowaries in the wild. Though sightings are fairly common in the Daintree Rainforest after two visits we were yet to see them so we headed for the Cassowary Coast. Etty Bay is a beautiful beach to while away some time looking for cassowary and we were treated to four sightings. They really look like they just stumbled out of Jurassic Park, a must see for any wildlife lover.
7. Platypus – Blue Mountains, NSW
When the original settlers sent back word of a mammal that laid eggs, had the bill of a duck and spines that inject venom, the people of England thought it was a hoax. When you see one in the wild you can understand why people were completely confused.
Platypus are known for being pretty elusive and easily disturbed causing them to dive under water and emerge in a completely different spot. The best place we've seen them is the blue lake at Jenolan Caves at dawn or dusk. Our tip is to wait for cloud cover, sit quietly looking for ripples and you should be rewarded with a glimpse of these unusual mammals.
How to get there: Jenolan Caves are around 1 hour 15 minute drive from Katoomba in the Blue Mountains or 3 hours from Sydney.
8. Tree Kangaroos – Atherton Tablelands, QLD
Before visiting Australia we thought there was only one type of kangaroo, let alone a whole sub-species that lived in trees. Upon finding this out, it was a goal to see them in the wild.
Now these guys are probably the hardest to spot of the lot. They blend in perfectly with their environment and rarely come down on to the forest floor. They enjoy young fresh leaves but are pretty messy eaters, if you see lots of young green leaves on the ground be sure to look up.
The only place we have seen them was around Nerada Tea Plantation in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland. Here they have a family of six Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos who very occasionally make an appearance.
How to get there: Nerada is around a 1 hour drive from Mission Beach or 1.5 hours from Cairns.
9. Estuarine Crocodiles – Mary River National Park, NT
Mary River has the highest density of Estuarine Crocs - or Salties as the Aussies call them - in the world (at any time you're likely to have dozens within a km of you). I definitely wouldn’t want to be going fishing in this area although we saw people doing just that.
We wanted a relaxed experience and hired a boat from Mary River Wilderness Retreat. We had spotted our first croc within 30 seconds and the count went up and up from there.
How to get there: Mary River is about a 1 and a half hour drive from Darwin or an hour from Kakadu National Park.
10. Western Red Kangaroos – Heirisson Island, WA
The Western Red Kangaroo is another of the iconic animals of Australia. Although they are numerous, they often hang around in very rural areas, making them trickier to see.
The best spot we found (and one of the best wildlife experiences we've had in Australia) was on Heirisson Island in the middle of Perth. Not far from the CBD, a few Kangaroos have settled on an island and are pretty welcoming to visitors. The roos there aren't afraid of people and will happily strike a pose!
11. Sea Lions - Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island, SA
It isn't a question of whether you will see sea lions here but how many. To get on to the beach itself you do have to take a tour, but you can get pretty close to a lot of them on the free board walk. We'd recommend doing both as it is a pretty special experience to get so close to them on the beach and it made for some great photo opportunities.
Getting here: Seal Bay is a half hour drive from Kingscote or an hour from Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.